Tyler Behrle on the obstacle course
Photo: Elizabeth Morris/NBC
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Tyler Behrle ’23 takes the ‘American Ninja Warrior’ stage.

New Jersey Ninja

by Matt Hughes
Some kids want to be basketball players when they grow up. Others dream of Super Bowls or Olympic gold medal glory. For as long as he can remember, Tyler Behrle ’23 has wanted to be a ninja.

This spring, he got his shot.

On June 13, Behrle made his debut on American Ninja Warrior, the reality competition show in which contestants try to conquer a punishing obstacle course that tests strength and balance in equal measure. The episode, filmed in March in San Antonio, Texas, showed him completing the first four obstacles of the program’s larger-than-life course before falling on the Piston Plunge — a performance good enough to earn him a return in the Los Angeles semifinal.

Behrle missed the cut on his second go-round in a segment that didn’t make the final broadcast, but was still grateful for the opportunity. In fact, stepping onto the Ninja set felt long overdue to the sociology and economics double-major from North Caldwell, N.J. He was selected to appear last season but had to cancel due to COVID-related travel restrictions — but Behrle has been getting ready for a lot longer than that.

It started on a backyard jungle gym, where a 12-year-old Behrle would run up the slide, pretending to scale the program’s signature 14-foot Warped Wall, and traverse the chains of his swingset in imitation of obstacles like Cliffhanger and the Unstable Bridges.

By the summer before high school, Behrle had upgraded. With the help of his father, he built a proper obstacle course in the yard — one that would eventually include an actual Warped Wall — along with homemade versions of the Salmon Ladder and Quintuple Steps.

In the suburbs of northern New Jersey, a ninja had begun his training.

“I would come home from high school, and if it was a nice day, I’d spend three to four hours on the ninja course, and then I would do my homework,” Behrle recalls.

Behrle’s preparation soon moved beyond the backyard to so-called “ninja gyms,” training centers with their own versions of American Ninja Warrior obstacles, and he only got better from there. He began competing with, and now works for, the National Ninja League, an organization that hosts amateur ninja contests for athletes of a variety of ages and skill levels. In 2017, he won the league’s national youth division championship.

At age 14, he also hosted his own backyard ninja competition fundraiser for Ninja for a Cure, a nonprofit founded by three-time American Ninja Warrior contestant Henry Ferrarin that raises money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Behrle has since raised more than $15,000 over four total Ninja for a Cure events.

At Bucknell, he still balances homework and ninja training. In preparation for the show, he alternated weeknights devoted to schoolwork and workouts, with much of his physical prep happening on the climbing wall in Gerhard Fieldhouse. As his classmates and professors learned about what he was doing, Behrle found a supportive community to cheer him on.

So now that he’s made it to the big stage, what’s next for Bucknell’s one and only ninja?

“I’ve been thinking about that a lot,” Behrle says. “I do not think I will be applying again next year because I don’t want to spend the last semester of my senior year focusing on getting my weight right or how many pull-ups I can do. But after that? If I get a job near a ninja gym, I still love the sport and I will totally be going to that ninja gym twice a week or more. And I would definitely consider doing this again in the future.”